SNOW HILL, Md. — The Junior Swamp Bats 14U softball team went 3-3 at the 2022 Class B Eastern Nationals last week at John Walter Smith Park in Snow Hill, Md.
The double-elimination tournament ran from Wednesday, July 27, to Sunday, July 30, with pool play running on Wednesday and Thursday and bracket play going from Thursday to Sunday.
The Junior Swamp Bat 14s competed in the 16U tournament since the 14U tournament was canceled due to not having enough teams available.
Ten days before the team was scheduled to head to the 14U tournament, Coach Marty Testo got the news that it had been canceled. With that came an invitation to compete in the 16U tournament, and there was no question whether or not Testo was going to accept.
“We believe in our team, we believe in our girls,” Testo said. “They played against 16U teams during the season, so we were confident in what we could do.”
The Junior Swamp Bats finished 2-1 in pool play, earning the top seed in Pool C, then went 1-2 in bracket play. They played a game on Wednesday, three games on Thursday due to a rainout and another two games on Friday.
“It was a lot, but that’s softball,” Testo said. “Our girls battled through it. They didn’t complain and they pushed on.”
The Keene 14s kicked off pool play with a 7-4 win over the Ohio Starz, before losing to Clarence Black, 3-1, and bouncing back with an 8-3 win over Southern Tier Thunder to finish off pool play.
The latter win was what proved to the girls they belonged with the 16s, Testo said.
“We looked outmatched when you did the eye test,” Testo said. “We scored early, they came back, and then they didn’t score again.”
It was 3-3 after the first inning, then Keene scored four runs in the fourth inning and another in the fifth inning to secure the win.
“When we beat them, that’s when I think we said, ‘We can do something down here,’ ” Testo said.
The win cliched the No. 1 seed in Pool C for the Junior Swamp Bats. The three division winners were then randomly given the top three seeds in the bracket, and Keene was picked as the No. 3 seed. The draw paired them against Capital Region Reign Elite, the eventual national champions, in the first round.
Keene lost, 8-1, then beat the Ohio Starz again, 10-0, to stay alive in the consolation bracket. JSB met its end with an 8-1 loss to Clarence Black, which went on to the semifinals.
“Not many 14U teams can say they went down to a 16U tournament and won their pool,” Testo said. “Nobody thought we could do that except for us.
“Just a tremendous experience for the girls,” he added. “They represented Junior Swamp Bats softball to the ultimate.”
Madi Testo — Coach Testo’s daughter — hit a team-high .471 (8-for-17) during the six-game tournament run and two doubles and six RBIs. All her RBIs came in the second game of bracket play. She went 3-for-4 in that game with a run scored. She went 2-for-2 in the tournament’s opening game.
Ashlyn Clay hit .333 (5-for-15) throughout the tournament with three RBIs. Clay also pitched, throwing 8.1 innings (one start) with a 4.20 ERA.
Kendal Cote led the team with 19.2 innings pitched, starting five of the team’s six games. She finished with a 5.34 ERA and struck out 20 batters.
“We wouldn’t be here without Kendal,” Coach Testo said. “She competed her tail off.”
Shaylee Branon ripped two triples during the tournament and had two RBIs. She finished with a .233 batting average (3-for-13). Cainen Avery — Branon’s teammate at Monadnock Regional High School — hit .294 (5-for-18) with five singles and an RBI.
Ari Drouin hit .250 for Keene (4-for-16) with a couple of timely hits but made most of her impact as a utility player in the field, filling various roles on the defense throughout the tournament.
“Every girl was outstanding in her own way,” Coach Testo said. “We’re not there without the whole team. Everybody had their moments.”
The Junior Swamp Bats finished the season 30-6 with three tournament wins, including its second consecutive state championship. The team raised nearly $20,000 for the trip to Maryland from fundraising and donations.
“Huge thank you to all the parents and the community for making this possible,” said Coach Testo. “Without that, we’re unable to go. Just another example of the community stepping up.
“I’m extremely proud of [the girls],” Coach Testo added. “To be called their coach is an honor.”